Nokia announced Thursday that the company's rich Ovi Maps navigation software is now available as a free download at www.nokia.com/maps. Ten Nokia handsets currently qualify for the upgrade, but only four are currently available in the US: The N97 mini, E72, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and the Nokia 5800 Navigation Edition. According to the company, every Nokia Symbian S60 device developed from now on will be eligible for the free navigation service.
Strangely, the N97 is excluded from this update. Why make Ovi Maps upgrade available for the N97's younger brother, the mini, but leave out the company's flagship multimedia device? Nokia did not disclose any details behind this decision.
Nokia has been aggregating data and building its mobile mapping technology since the company's acquisition of digital map supplier NAVITEQ. Up until today, customers had to pay for premium services such as pedestrian maps and turn-by-turn directions. In addition to these features, the latest version of Ovi Maps is shows local country data as well as over 6,000 3D landmarks. And in March 2010, users can access data from Lonely Planet and Michelin travel guides.
In late 2009, Google started offering a free navigation service with turn-by-turn directions with the release of the Motorola Droid and Android OS 2.0. There are a couple of differentiators between Google Navigation and Ovi Maps, however. Ovi Maps requires no network connection for navigation so you'll save your phone's battery life and not be thrown off by cellular dead zones while on the road. Ovi Maps use something called "hybrid vector maps." According to Nokia, these maps are high quality, but less data intensive so they are actually stored on your phone when you download them.
Google Maps will cache along your planned route so if you hit a dead zone, you can still receive turn-by-turn directions to your destination. But if you try to switch to another map or plan another route, Google Navigation won't work.
But Google Navigation offers something Ovi Maps doesn't: Real-life views of your route. While Ovi Maps displays 3D landmarks, Google Navigation's Street View and satellite view are incredibly useful for navigation. Right now, Ovi Maps doesn't have anything quite like these unique features.
Nokia's headed in the right direction for gaining leverage in the US smartphone market and keeping up with the competition by offering this rich navigation service for free. Right now, the iPhone only offers Google Maps for free; to get the kind of features you'd find on Ovi Maps requires purchasing a costly third-party app. Next, I'd like to see a revamped version of the Symbian OS--but it looks like Nokia is already on that.